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Discover the hidden charms of the rule-breaking Greek capital with photographer Antonis Theodoridis’s insider tips on how to spend 48 hours in Athens.
Greek photographer Antonis Theodoridis’s pictures are subtle, wistful and beautiful, capturing a sense of place. His series Newspaper From the American West (2014) finds beauty in the immense blue skies, open horizons and roadside sights of the USA’s western states, while the humorous and thought-provoking Ways of Escape (2016-2017) focusses on his adopted home town of Athens. “I originally moved to Athens for work six to seven years ago, but I really enjoy the city – it’s my favourite city and not just for professional reasons,” he says.
As a relatively new resident of Athens, Theodoridis used his profession to get to know the city better. “Ways of Escape was my first series shot in Athens, and it was a way for me to discover the city. I got to explore it through my photography, not as a tourist, and it made me get to know the city a lot better. Sometimes I would end up in a new part of town,” he says, adding that he considers himself an Athens insider these days.
“Athens can be perceived as chaotic, but when you get used to it, there’s more freedom to do what you want here. You don’t have to follow the rules all the time; bending the rules is our favourite hobby! There’s a sense of freedom, a feeling that I cannot be restricted,” says Theodoridis, who hails from Drama in northeastern Greece. The photographer’s top recommendations for what to see and do over a couple of days in Athens take in a number of places, including world-renowned historical sites and museums, under-the-radar food spots and idyllic gardens.
Go for breakfast on the roof of the Acropolis Museum
Start the first day by visiting the city’s most famous building, the Acropolis, but not for the usual reason. “The rooftop of the Acropolis Museum has a one-of-a-kind coffee place, with a huge balcony. It’s inside the museum itself, so you feel very close to everything to do with the Acropolis. The café does good coffee, cakes and snacks, and you can combine breakfast with a museum visit,” says Theodoridis. The Acropolis has many permanent exhibitions, as well as a fascinating archaeological excavation underneath the museum.
Enjoy local Greek food in Metaxourgeio
“A restaurant that’s popular with Athenians is Seychelles, in a part of the city called Metaxourgeio, close to the city centre. Seychelles is in a small square with old buildings and serves lots of different food from all over Greece,” Theodoridis says. The menu’s Greek dishes include kalitsounia (a Cretan cheese pie), slow-cooked octopus, a large cheese selection and plenty of wines.
Have coffee among parrots and flowers
“The National Garden in the city centre is really beautiful, and the architecture is unique. It’s a romantic garden with lots of pathways filled with parrots and birds. There’s a cafeteria here, a very traditional coffee place that blends in well with the park. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s an interesting place for a coffee. And it’s nice and cool in the summer when Athens gets really hot,” says Theodoridis.
Explore Athens’s best bars in backyards and alleyways
“There are lots of bars in Athens, and my favourite is a unique one – The Black Duck Garden. It’s located in a renovated Neoclassical building from the ’20s or ’30s and has an amazing backyard filled with trees. The Black Duck is opposite the old parliament building and serves good food as well as drinks,” the photographer explains. The varied food selection at The Black Duck Garden covers everything from fun takes on classic brunch dishes such as eggs benedict to a variety of salads and heartier dishes like pork sirloin.
“Another favourite is Galaxy, a traditional old-timey bar with waiters in their 60s, red leather seats and wood everywhere. It might be one of the oldest bars in the city and is located in an alleyway. Galaxy is very hidden away, especially at night; you really have to look closely to spot it – even locals have to almost find it anew every time,” says Theodoridis.
Start the day with coffee and a walk
“Go for a walk in the neighbourhood of Kypseli, specifically Agios Georgios (St George) Square to have coffee at Village – a small local coffee place by the square,” says Theodoridis. “The visit can be combined with a nice walk to the National Archaeological Museum afterwards.” The archaeological museum is the largest in Greece – don’t miss its collection of beautiful Cycladic antiquities, which have a curiously contemporary look, from the Bronze Age civilisation on the Aegean Islands.
Eat at the foot of a hill
“A walk through the Exarcheia neighbourhood could take you to Ama Lachei, a traditional Greek restaurant at the foot of Strefi Hill, on Kallidromiou Street,” says Theodoridis. Try Ama Lachei’s large selection of meze, particularly the seafood options, such as cuttlefish and octopus marinated in smoked paprika. “Afterwards, especially in the summer, someone might be looking for a cool space to chill in the early afternoon after lunch. A beautiful hidden spot for that is the backyard garden of the Numismatic Museum in the Syntagma area,” he says.
Admire the picturesque Anafiotika area
“Wander through Plaka in the later afternoon; it’s the ideal time of the day for a walk to Anafiotika, a unique neighbourhood built by immigrants from the Greek island of Anafi in keeping with their traditional island architecture,” says Theodoridis. “The area still has the feel of an island, with narrow pathways, lots of flowers and small trees and tiny houses. It’s a great place to hike up the Acropolis Hill, take panoramic pictures of Athens, as well as photos of local cats. Lots of cats!”
Dine like a local creative in Koukaki
“A long walk can take you to the neighbourhood of Koukaki, a traditional Athenian place frequented by tourists and locals in equal measure. There’s a very cosy bar-restaurant here that’s very popular among local creatives and artists, called Bel Ray. It’s ideal for a cocktail and a quick dinner,” says Theodoridis. Bel Ray hosts regular DJ nights, and the cool interior, with its industrial vibe – it’s set in a former auto-repair shop – and fun illustrated bar certainly enhance the experience.
Dance to rebetiko music
“For later in the night, I would recommend some traditional old-school Greek rebetiko music. I love a place called Feidiou 2. It’s a small but very popular hangout for lovers of local traditional music,” says Theodoridis. “There’s always live music and some event going on. It’s something uniquely Athenian and worth a try. If you end up not being a fan of rebetiko, you could go back to Galaxy for a glass of whisky!”